Longevity and larval development among southern bell frogs (Litoria raniformis) in the Coleambally Irrigation Area-implications for conservation of an endangered frog

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Journal Article
Wildlife Research, 2010, 37 (6), pp. 447 - 455
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Context. With the flow of many of the world's rivers regulated such that water can be diverted for agriculture and human consumption, basic ecological information on the current status of key biota in significant floodplain wetlands and their response following inundation is needed. The maintenance of natural habitat to ensure amphibian survival is gaining increasing recognition, given the ongoing decline of anuran populations. Information on longevity, time required to emerge from the water and to reach sexual maturity, all provide important information about the required timing, frequency and duration of environmental water allocations to ensure successful recruitment among populations of southern bell frogs (Litoria raniformis Keferstein, 1867). Aims. The aims of this research were to establish the longevity of southern bell frogs in the Coleambally Irrigation Area (CIA) in the Riverina region of New South Wales, Australia, and to evaluate the capacity for southern bell frog tadpoles to survive and successfully metamorphose following an extended overwintering period. Methods. Skeletochronology studies were carried out using toe-clips taken from adult and juvenile frogs captured in irrigation channels and rice fields over two rice-growing seasons. For the metamorphosis assay, southern bell frog tadpoles were held back in their development by low temperatures and low food allocation for 290 days, before temperatures and food allocation were increased adequately to allow metamorphosis to occur. Key results. The study indicated that skeletochronological examination of toe-bones was a useful technique for establishing the age structure of southern bell frogs in this region. The oldest animals in the population were found to be 4-5 years old, although the majority of frogs were typically 2-3 years old. Also, the metamorphosis assay indicated that successful metamorphosis was the exception rather than the rule if tadpole development was held back by low food ration and low temperatures. Conclusions. If southern bell frogs reach sexual maturity only after 2 years, and the oldest animals observed in the field are 4 or 5 years old, then there is a very narrow window of opportunity-two to three seasons-for each individual to successfully breed. Implications. The implications for environmental flow management are that habitats for key species identified for protection such as the endangered southern bell frog will need water every 1-2 years to enable each cohort to breed and maintain the wild populations. The extent of the environmental flows needs to be adequate to ensure that water persists long enough for critical biological events such as anuran metamorphosis to occur during the spring and summer months. © CSIRO 2010.
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